As the University of Wisconsin-Madison reconciles with its past — one that critics argue is filled with expropriation and dispossession of Indigenous lands — new funding from The National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH) is allowing a group of faculty, staff and students to explore educational opportunities for the community.
A recent grant from the NEH provides funding for the education of indigenous land dispossession, entitled “Whose Land Was ‘Granted’ to the Land Grant? Teaching Indigenous Dispossession in Wisconsin and Beyond.” This program aims to educate community members about the Morrill Act — the 1862 grant of 1,337,895 acres of land for educational institutions (such as UW-Madison) from the Menominee, Ojibwe, Dakota and Ho-Chunk tribes to the United State government.
The funding was awarded to a team of project directors — Professors Kasey Keeler, Ruth Goldstein, Joe Mason, Caroline Gottschalk Druschke and Jen Rose Smith — who received the funding through NEH’s Humanities Initiative Grants. According to the NEH, the funding is intended to “strengthen the teaching and study of the humanities in higher education through the development or enhancement of humanities programs, courses and resources.”
“The NEH grant will allow our project team to dedicate time and resources to creating accurate, respectful and responsible educational modules about the land grant history of UW and how the land grant system worked across all of Wisconsin,” the team of project directors explained. “[This funding will] make visible the precise ways UW-Madison and other land grant universities directly benefited from the dispossession of Indigenous lands across Wisconsin and the way this has long been reinforced and upheld as settler colonial institutions.”
Project goals include the creation of interdisciplinary educational materials, along with lessons for interested community members, the group explained.
“[The grant will be] used to create curricular materials, as either stand-alone one-day lessons that last from 50-75 minutes or as buildable lessons that allow faculty to incorporate a series of lessons [into their class],” the project directors continued. “It is also our goal that these materials be used outside UW-Madison by community members and tribal nations as educational resources.”
According to the team, funding will be used to “bring on several graduate and undergraduate students in paid roles to help us develop these materials.” Planned usage of the funding also includes capabilities for work outside of traditional educational responsibilities, with summer work being a main point.
The funding, allocated for 18 months, makes input from Native community members a main initiative.
“This [outreach effort] may look like our project team traveling to visit the tribal nations of the state to learn from and with them and sharing or presenting our work, it may look like hosting tribal representatives at UW-Madison or it may look like paying stipends to community members who share their knowledge and expertise with us,” the team noted.
The group expressed that, although the eventual goal of the project is to inspire other universities created through land grants to “tell their own story,” the educational goals of the project are centered around Madison and the greater Indigenous community. The project directors are supported through a group of UW-Madison graduate and undergraduate students through volunteer work.
“We would also like to see this work extended into other institutional interventions, building from the important work of the Native Nations initiative, the work of the Our Shared Future Initiative and the work of the American Indian Studies program,” the project directors said.
In regards to future goals, the project includes advocacy for free tuition for Indigenous students. In their view, this would establish a foundation for consistent dialogue concerning “what co-governance or even restored land and justice can look like at UW-Madison.”
The group explained that their work around Indigenous land dispossession and its education is only a first step. Even so, the team expressed that the work done by the project puts a large focus on the stories of tribes that were displaced as well as the history around them.
“We want to acknowledge the emotional labor of our Indigenous colleagues, tribal partners and American Indian community members — particularly those of Wisconsin tribal nations — who are regularly called upon to do the work of reconciling and being in dialogue about this painful history,” the team concluded.